Sunday, February 17, 2013

Is more Bible better Bible?

We have lived with the three year lectionary for a couple of generations and not without controversy.  I have acquaintances who believe I am not a real conservative because I use the three year lectionary (not to mention Divine Services numbering something other than Three).  I will admit to some hesitance.  While I know this is a raging battle among the conservative liturgical side of Missouri, I did not realize that there were Roman Catholics who had the same apprehensions.  I doubt that there are more than a handful of ELCA style Lutherans who even knew that the one year lectionary still existed!

One Roman Catholic blogger put it this way:  For example, do Catholics in 2012 know the Bible better than Catholics in 1912? I'd argue that the Catholics of 1912 knew the Bible better - even with their smaller lectionary of readings.

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass contains Scripture, but it is not essentially a Bible study, and the Church has never held that the Mass was the context by which we worked through the entire Bible. Originally, it was the Divine Office that served this purpose. What we have seen is the expanding of Bible readings in Holy Mass and the lessing of Bible readings in the Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office. The debate about the lectionary should always take into account the entire public liturgy...which includes the Divine Office cycle.

Now there is a novel thought -- the Divine Service contains Scripture but is not essentially a Bible study.  After listening to what passes for preaching among some in Missouri, I am not sure we are all agreed upon this point.  In fact, I have often heard the view espoused that because our people are in Bible study in small proportion to those who attend worship services, we need to preach the Scriptures by teaching them exactly as one would teach them in Bible study.  While this seems a noble thought, it defers to the willingness of people and their Pastors to deal with minimums rather than aim for higher expectations.  BTW this same idea has shown up among those who schedule catechism class for Sunday mornings so that they do not have to ask people to come out more than one day a week to get their shot of church over with.

Another great statement -- working through the entire Bible has never been a goal or purpose of the Divine Service.  While it might be a good idea, I am not sure that it is all that fruitful for folks to read the Bible through from beginning to end in one year.  It certainly gives them a broader picture but does this make for deeper knowledge and understanding of what the Scriptures are and what they say?  I know of no read the Bible in one year plan among the children of Israel of old.  They too had appointed lessons and readings for their church year.  The job of the Divine Service is to unfold the church year through the pericopes and that is no small goal.

Watching the dwindling attendance at neighboring Baptist churches on Sunday evenings or Wednesday evenings, I know that the move to once a week at church being the maximum expected and offered is not limited to Lutherans (or Roman Catholics).  Indeed, the daily office is seldom considered germane to this discussion of one year vs three year.  But indeed it is.  The Church's offering of the Word of the Lord to the faithful cannot nor should it be limited to what happens on Sunday morning in the Divine Service (the Mass).  It is to our poverty that we have presumed that faithfulness is a once a week or less participation.  Our exposure to the Scripture in our history has always included the daily office.  Read some of the accounts of the worship life of Lutheranism in Bach's day and in Bach's town.  Preaching was a daily business and the daily offices were richly offered and well attended.  Maybe it is time to renew this old idea and reshape the common expectation that once a week is enough Church for most all of us.

We have more leisure time than any generation before us.  We retire so that we can control our calendars in minute detail (after having them defined by employers for so long).  Maybe we need to reconsider the whole idea that our full exposure to religion and faith is completed in 59 1/2 minutes on a Sunday morning.

Really... some good things to consider here!

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Would that it were as easy as length of exposure.

As an "old school" Baptist, I was in church whenever the doors were open. I hope I didn't turn out completely Biblically illiterate. However, I know people who were with me in the pew from preschool age on who are.

As a Lutheran now, I revel in the Divine Service; in Heaven come to Earth every Sunday. I joy in having large swaths of Scripture read to me (instead of the customary one verse used as a springboard for a sermon).

Yet I see not-so-new Lutherans around me who yawn at what they have EVERY Sunday. May the Spirit wake us up to care and learn before it's too late (One OR Three-Year Lectionary)!